The Texas BBQ tour and America’s Mighty Warriors
Some of you may not be aware, but in addition to this blog I also am participating in a motorcycle based BBQ eating competition for charity. Biker Monkey (www.bikermonkey.com ) launched the Texas BBQ Tour this year, benefiting America’s Mighty Warriors. Since this fell right into my plans for launching the blog I felt like it would be a lot of fun. The winner gets to select from a prize pool, is awarded Grand Champion status, and gains free entry into the 2014 contest. The charity aspect also was good and I plan on adding a bit more of a donation based on the number of total BBQ entries I have.
The contest is pretty straightforward. You get a point for each establishment you eat at after providing a copy of the receipt, a picture of your motorcycle in front of the sign, and performing a simple check in and rating on Biker Monkey’s website. The restaurant must have “smoke” or some form of the word “barbecue” in its name. No points for a place such as John Mueller Meat Company. Prior to this week I had eaten at 22 different BBQ joints by motorcycle.
He did throw one twist into the competition. There are 10 bonus stops. These are spread throughout Texas and rings up five points instead of only one. Hitting all of them would add the equivalent of 45 more stops. The locations aren’t necessarily the best BBQ in Texas but they offer different experiences than the run of the mill. This is either by the location and/or the eating experience.
Biker Monkey’s BBQ Tour Bonus Restaurants:
- Red Barn – Colleyville, Texas
- Cooper’s – Llano, Texas
- Hard 8 – Stephenville, Texas
- Snow’s BBQ – Lexington, Texas
- Smitty’s Market – Lockhart, Texas
- Salt Lick BBQ – Driftwood, Texas
- Louie Mueller – Taylor, Texas
- Goode Company – Houston, Texas
- Big Boys Barbecue – Sweetwater, Texas
- Franklin’s BBQ – Austin, Texas
I had hit 4 already; Snow’s, Smitty’s, Salt Lick, and Franklin. I was saving Goode Company for a boost later in the competition. I had eaten at Louie Mueller this year but we were in the Jeep so it hadn’t counted for this competition. Red Barn is near Dallas and Cooper’s would be added to another Austin area trip. The two outliers; Hard 8 and Big Boys were the farthest distances from us. Hard 8 BBQ is located in Stephenville, which is over 230 miles from our house, and Big Boys is past Abilene and even further.
We were considering a ride out to New Mexico to attend a BMW rally in September and were thinking of hitting Hard 8 and Big Boys on the trip. However, we hadn’t yet ridden anywhere near as far as New Mexico and also didn’t like the necessity of ‘having’ to hit those stops during the ride. If we ran into any issues with weather or mechanical problems it could mean having to skip the BBQ. The contest does run until October 31st, but I wanted to get these outliers knocked out a bit earlier in the competition.
This led us to try a sort of dry run for a long distance trip. We had ridden Austin and back in a single day which was over 300 miles but it didn’t feel adventurous as we had family in both cities if any problems arose. For this trip we would ride out to Stephenville and back in a single day. The five hundred or so miles total would equal the amount we would need to ride each of two days en route to the New Mexico Rally.
Sometime after making the decision to do this trip we changed our mind about covering the entire distance in a single day. Rather than leave at the crack of dawn on Saturday we would ride to Hillsboro on Friday after work. It was about 170 miles from our house and would allow us to try something else we had not done yet. We hadn’t ridden into the night on the BMW.
Safety and comfort
Night time riding adds additional dimensions to motorcycle touring. When cruising down desolate roads in the country there are no street lamps. Your sole source of illumination is your motorcycle’s lighting system. A poor system can make riding dangerous, and also cause dangerous fatigue. Another danger of night riding is animal crossings. Deer tend to graze near the roads at dawn and dusk. In the Texas Hill Country you can see dozens of deer gathered in a single location and ride past hundreds in the span of only a few hours. We’ve seen it on our car travels and I’ve seen it in my bicycling. I’ve had deer sprint between bicyclists while the riders were intently focused on a narrow light beaming from the bike. On a bicycle a deer encounter could break bones; on a motorcycle it can be deadly. I recall from my days working at a motorcycle shop the time a customer brought in a totaled Honda Goldwing after hitting a deer. There was still deer hair in places and the bike had gone down at speed.
Lighting options include a pair of running lights mounted under the primary beam. This also provides redundancy in case of a failure of the hi/low beams. Another option is the newer HID lighting. Converting a standard headlight over to HID is not complicated, but it requires adding additional hardware to the wiring via the included ballast. There is a further problem in that the existing headlight lens may have ridges and angles crafted specifically for the standard style of light, and the HID beams can throw a different spray of light. Due to my reservations with trying something like this and the fact that I hadn’t even tried out the BMWs lighting under touring conditions I decided to hold off on any lighting changes for now.
Leslye also had a mild comfort issue on the bike. She wanted
a backrest so that she could change riding position occasionally. With a range of around 170 miles per tank we could ride well over two hours without stopping if needed but when you are locked into a single position your body parts can get sore quickly. The backrest request left me with another decision. There are two options; a simple backrest or a box that mounts to the top rear of the bike that includes a backrest. With the R1100RS this was an option and not a standard accessory. My bike did not include this top case, nor did it include the mounting system. A top case adds luggage capacity, and likely more important it adds waterproof luggage capacity. The side bags we have hold our clothing and other requirements for short trips but for longer trips we may need to carry sleeping bags and other camping equipment. Keeping these items waterproof would prevent the necessity of wrapping everything in a tarp or garbage bag.
Beyond the idea of a top case itself, the choices were BMW branded or third party such as Givi. A used BMW top case, the luggage mounting rack, and the support structure can easily run over $700! The third party options are much cheaper than BMW but require their own mounting system and total cost used can run $300. That is a lot of money for a piece of luggage that we may only use a few times a year just for the benefit of a backrest. I didn’t think we would always want the added heft of a top box for a day ride.
Our other option was a simple backrest. This is merely a pad that mounts to the bike with a small amount of hardware. Multiple companies offer backrests specifically for the R1100RS. We still had an issue with this though; these backrests still require the rack that is an option for this bike. The rack has a support frame underneath it while the stop rack on our bike had no such support. Simply trying to attach the backrest to the current plastic holders could result in a disastrous failure that could have Leslye falling off the rear of the bike. I had found a used rack on Ebay for $93 shipped but still was lacking the support frame. This meant I still had to source the support frame in addition to shelling out the $300 for a bike-specific backrest.
Homemade backrest and redneck ingenuity
While I like to make custom parts including racks I have been hesitant with the BMW. My redneck ingenuity doesn’t always match the quality that BMW is known for and I also had an issue with putting Leslye’s life at risk based on a design of my own with little to no testing. Time for our ride was nearing though and the wheels in my head kept turning.
The backrest pad itself is very simple and I knew I could make something safe enough even if the looks weren’t there. The support for the backrest was where I was most nervous. We had already bought the vinyl from a fabric store and looked at some of the foam options a week prior to the trip but I couldn’t find the right viscosity. I also kept delaying the inevitable because of the visions of Leslye lying in the road behind the bike. I have flipped someone off the rear of my motorcycle before. In my younger days I took someone for a ride on my GPz750. I always would ask if they had ridden before and went over a few tips, but this rocket scientist boldly said they knew everything. A hard twist of the throttle and a drop of the clutch later, I saw the person rolling on the street behind my bike. They didn’t need, or at least didn’t want, hospital attention but I think it shook both of us up enough that I have been more careful with a passenger since.
A pool noodle, really?
The day before our ride I got what I had hoped would be the rest of the supplies on the way home from work and jumped in headfirst. For foam I used a pool noodle. This was good firm closed cell foam that would provide some compression but hold up to hours of pressure in the heat. The foam would be held into place with spray adhesive and then wrapped with the vinyl. For the base I grabbed some leftover wood shelving that I routed the edges with a round-over bit, and the mounting bolts had large washers that would keep the bolts from pulling through the wood. My upholstery skills are lacking but it came out fair for a first-attempt. It won’t be the final design but the pad would work pretty well.
Before building the mounting system I installed a set of highway peg brackets on the bike. This is a mounting bracket that bolts on the outside of the cylinder head covers and after attaching foot pegs it provides an alternate foot placement. The visual look it where your feet are forward and splayed outward into the wind. This is the opposite of a sporting riding position where the feet are below and sometimes slightly behind the rider’s torso. The RS is considers a sport touring motorcycle and offers up a riding position slightly on the sportier side so the idea of highway pegs on such a bike really is a bit silly – the handlebars are low and forward so the riding position on this bike with highway pegs would be awkward. The benefit though is that it shifts the weight on your butt and simple allowing you to shift even for a few minutes can help reduce fatigue greatly. The brackets went on without too much trouble and I grabbed some rear foot pegs off of my old Honda 750. They weren’t the best option but they were available and within reach. I’d look for a better option when I got back but wanted to try the alternate riding position on the upcoming trip.
The short break on the backrest design was done and it was time to build a mounting system for the pad. I used some of the steel stock that I keep in the garage which consisted of flat bar, hollow tube, and solid rod. I cobbled together the parts as I went along. The flat bar worked well and created a sort of hidden mounting point. The hollow tubes didn’t go as well as expected. When I had the mounting bracket pretty much finished I started pushing on it to test the strength. Initially it held up but when I pulled it off the bike and pulled on it when in a vise, one of the welding points snapped. It was 11pm and I was so sweaty my eyes were cloudy from the sweat running down in the high humidity of Houston. I was frustrated that I had put in that much work but had to throw in the towel. I looked back at the available material and decided I should of went with a much simpler design; a flat piece of steel bent to make the connection from backrest pad to the flat steel mount on the bike.
The plan would be to wake up before my normal job, grab some flat steel from Lowes, head back to the house, and try to finish before my first meeting of the day. We would be heading out after work so I wouldn’t have time to try anything else if this plan didn’t work. It was hard to roll out of bed the next morning but I was able to cut, drill, and shape the steel to provide not only a much more secure mount than previous but also one that had a small amount of up and down adjustability. The bike was now ready for its next trip.
The Billy the Kid Museum, Koffee Kup, and Dublin
Other than the primary goal of hitting the bonus restaurant we found a few other interesting locations to visit on this ride. Hico (pronounced high-co) Texas sports the Billy the Kid Museum. This is a small tribute to “brushy” Bill Roberts who claimed to be Billy the Kid shortly before his death. Robert’s story has some pretty big holes, but also has a number of not so coincidental similarities to the Billy the Kid legend. It’s best to let someone decide for themselves, if the legend interests you then I recommend reading up on Brushy Bill’s story.
Hico is also the hometown of the Koffee Kup restaurant. This is a very popular stop for motorcyclists and has a huge variety of house made pies. Even though we would be eating BBQ for lunch we put a stop for pie in the agenda.
Our final big stop of the day would be in Dublin, Texas. Dublin is the hometown to the Dublin Bottling Works. They were the first place to bottle Dr. Pepper. Their long history with them ended recently with a lawsuit and agreement to no longer bottle the drink there. They had held fast to keeping real sugar in the recipe rather than corn syrup which is cheaper and has some debatable properties. They were sued because they added their name to the Dr. Pepper they were bottling. The rebellious act was seen as a threat to the giant Snapple-Dr. Pepper Company and ties were formally severed. Dublin Bottling Works now produces its own line of real sugar based sodas and is trying to recover from the litigation.
The visit to Dublin would be in the mid afternoon and we would then make the run back to home without any major stops. This would be a 250 mile stretch making for a total day’s mileage of over 340 miles.
Finally rolling out
We left after seven pm Friday with the worst heat of the day well behind us. We took FM1488 over to FM362 and then up to Hwy 105 and over to Hwy 6 near Navasota. From there we would follow Hwy 6 out to IH 35 in Waco. It wasn’t too far until I realized I had left my wheel lock at home. When leaving the bike overnight in public locations I use at least one wheel lock in addition to the stock fork lock. While nothing can prevent a professional thief from stealing you ride, these small locks that go onto the disc brakes help provide peace of mind. We made a stop in College Station Texas to pick up a “u” lock at Wal-Mart which would secure the bike later that evening.
The speed limits in Texas are being raised and we made great time down highway six with posted speed limits of 75 miles per hour in between the small cities. The bikes’ headlights were more than ample on the road and we passed what looked to be a coyote on the side of the road somewhere outside of Hearne, Texas. Leslye’s backrest was doing its job and I stretch my legs out onto the highway pegs a few times. They were indeed pretty awkward but I think after a few adjustments and they will work well.
When we turned north onto I-35 we actually had our slowest stretch of the evening. The speed limit dropped to 60 and construction made for some white knuckle moments as we rode in two narrow lanes next to tractor trailers with the road bordered by concrete walls. We pulled into the motel and grabbed some sleep. We wouldn’t need to leave the hotel until around 9am the next morning as our first stop in Hico wouldn’t open until 10am.
A legend and some good pie
Saturday morning we rolled out a little after 9. We took TX 22 out of Hillsboro and the road was pretty nice out to Hico, riding past Lake Whitney and through the small town of Meridian. I kept thinking of what it would have been like back in the days of Billy the Kid, riding across the land on horseback. We arrived in Hico and visited the tiny museum. There wasn’t much to it really but we enjoyed it. Leslye knew the story well and I had read a little about it so we didn’t spend a lot of time hanging out. The Koffee Kup was just around the corner at the intersection of TX 6 and U.S. 281 and we each ordered a slice of pie. It was good but not as fabulous as we had hoped. I think as a mid-day break from riding the pies would go over really well though, and it’s likely that we’ll stop by if we ever pass by again.
We made the short ride up to Stephenville via U.S. 281 and pulled into the parking lot of Hard 8 BBQ a little after 11:30. Hard 8 is a large establishment and is a somewhat unique eating experience. I’ll call it Ranch Style, similar in some ways to the Salt Lick in Driftwood, Texas. You enter the building through a patio where multiple pits are cooking the meat. A finishing grill is used for steaks and corn, and you order in front of a warming pit where all of the finished food is on display. We were offered a sample of rib eye steak which good but lacked some flavor. I thought it odd that steak was being pushed on us at a BBQ restaurant but we ordered our usual fatty brisket with both regular and jalapeno sausage.
After getting the meat we entered the main building and picked out our sides. I asked the young lady behind the counter what their best side was and she recommended the macaroni and cheese. The beans are free here so we chose potato salad as our other side to go with the mac and cheese. The main building is massive with wood benches and tables. There is a large patio as well but we preferred the air conditioned main dining room. The walls are covered with animal heads and there are some bull riding photos mounted on the wall; the name Hard 8 refers to both the 8 seconds required in competition bull riding and a roll of two fours in the game of craps. It was about time to roll those dice.
Rolling the dice at Hard 8
The brisket had a thin but pretty dark smoke ring but the bark was soft and exhibited no sign of pepper and had little seasoning. I tried to pull a piece apart and the entire slice fell to pieces. This is a sign of an overcooked brisket but I still had high hopes because it was still wet and the fat looked to be properly rendered. With my first bite I was surprised. There was little flavor, and the wet brisket changed to dry before I could finish chewing. I thought maybe I didn’t drink enough water over the previous couple of days so I tried again and had a similar experience. It was almost as if they added water to the brisket but I think they wrapped it well prior to being finished. That helps retain moisture but doesn’t help with the bark flavoring. The bark itself was almost flavorless and soft. I planned to make a visit back to the pits again to try and figure out what was going on.
They have two sauces available. The regular is a dark and slightly thick sauce and is ok. The hot is a very thin vinegar based sauce which we didn’t care for.
The regular sausage was decent. There was no snap at all, and it carried the flavor of pork. They told us it was a 50/50 mix. The sausage didn’t stand but it was palpable. The jalapeno cheese was less interesting. Initially the flavor only had a hint of spice, but the heat built moments later. As with many jalapeno flavored sausages the heat becomes a heavy flavor and takes away from what should be a better experience in my opinion.
I liked the macaroni and cheese here. The cheese was a very thick sauce and tasted rich and creamy. The beans were basic without much pizazz. The potato salad was one of my least favorites. Thumbnail sized chunks of potato were covered in a thin liquid type mixture and just didn’t impress.
I made a walk around the exterior of the building and came to the large pit area and wood stack. They have two upright pits that look like they use to reduce the wood down to coals. I believe they then take those coals and place them under the primary pits for cooking. Notice I didn’t say smoking. I didn’t see fireboxes on their main pits. Rather than use indirect style smoking it appeared to me that they use direct grilling. This could explain the brisket, cooked too quickly to absorb any real smoke flavor and cooked too fast to have that perfect combination of taste and texture that properly smoked brisket can obtain. This type of cooking works ok for ribs and sausage which cook with much less time needed than brisket. I could be wrong here – but this is what it looked like to me.
I also overheard the cooks/salesmen talking about steaks. They were cheering the number of steaks sold and pumping each other up to sell more. It sounded like they were getting some type of bonus based on pushing the steak as opposed to the other choices. This cemented my impression of the restaurant. It wasn’t a true smokehouse; it was a ranch-style cookout. There is nothing wrong with that type of restaurant if that’s what you’re looking for and the steaks might have been good, but it doesn’t exude the same atmosphere of slow smoked barbecue.
Dublin Bottling Works
After our large meal we made another short ride over to Dublin via U.S. 377. We made it just after a tour started but they let us jump in. There was only one family on the tour and it was really sort of bittersweet. All of the history of Dublin bottling Works is tied to their relationship with Dr. Pepper. Dr. Pepper was invented from a drink called a “Waco shot”. In the day when sodas were hand mixed with carbonated water and any of a number of flavoring options that were added by hand, the Waco shot was a combination of all the available flavors. This was called a “suicide” and my family had a modern version when we were younger; mixing all of the available soda flavors into a single cup at the local roller skating rink. The original version of Dr. Pepper included 23 different flavors. Of these 23 flavors, there never has been prune juice in the mix either, as some rumors have gone.
Walking through the very small bottling area my mind was flooded with thoughts from my childhood. My father worked for 7Up bottling company and this tour brought back memories of walking the floor with him, and getting the treat of a cold soda from an old fashioned vending machine. After viewing the actual bottling equipment the still employs some machinery from as early as the 1920’s we were taken through a room of memorabilia. No photos were allowed in this section which is all Dr. Pepper based. We learned of the story of the founder and of the Kloster family who ran the business for many years. Across the street we visited another collection of Dr. Pepper and related items and it felt sad that their dedication to a specific brand had ended.
Back at the soda shop where the tours begin we sampled the newer favors from Dublin Bottling Works. Their new line of drinks is very good but they have a long uphill battle as a tiny independent soda company located in a small town in Texas. They do sell the drinks at a grocery store near us and we will buy occasionally as treats. I recommend the black cherry, and Leslye preferred the ginger ale.
Billy the Kid Gravesite
We left Dublin and headed out on FM 219, a very small two lane blacktop road as we made our way to U.S. 281 and then down to Hamilton, Texas. We learned in Hico that Brushy Bill’s gravesite was just outside of town. We made a small stop and viewed the gravesite. Visitors have left small change, bandanas, and live bullets as a tribute to the man. We placed some change on the headstone and rolled off.
We were now riding in the most intense heat of the day. The 250 miles would roll off slowly as the sun beat down on us. We were pretty well prepared with sun sleeves and the heat-out clothing but we stopped once for a drink at a Sonic in Hamilton, and one other time we lingered at a gas station for about 20 minutes downing drinks and enjoying some cool air. We followed TX 36 to Gatesville, then U.S. 84 around Waco, hopping onto TX 6 down to Navasota. We turned onto familiar TX 105 and headed east, then onto FM 1774 into Magnolia and TX 149/249 into Tomball.
We made it home a few minutes after seven in the evening and well before sunset. We were tired but not exhausted. Since it was still Saturday we would be able to enjoy the rest of the weekend and not be too worn out on Monday for our day jobs. We had no mechanical issues and survived the heat which peaked at very close to 100 degrees. We’ve got a couple of things to try for the next hot ride; neck bands which you soak in ice water and a Camelbak hydration backpack. It was over 520 miles round trip with one more bonus restaurant down; five more to go.